FTN: Thanks for doing this Adrian,
AS: My pleasure! I love interviews!
FTN: Today we are talking to Adrian Sherlock, a multi-tasker if I ever met one and creator of the Damon Dark series and who is about to plunge the world’s greatest detective in to the time vortex.
It’s our pleasure to introduce Mr Adrian Sherlock. Can you tell our readers a little about yourself?
FTN: Well, it’s a long story but, I’m an Australian, from Geelong ( a city near Melbourne) and I pretty much went into a state of wild excitement when I discovered the space race and all the facts about rockets and the Moon landing when I first started school. It was so outrageous compared to my rather tame life. This led to me discovering science fiction and science fiction shows led me to wanting to write stories, take up acting, become a film maker, go to drama school, go to University, meet famous actors and so on. Somewhere along the way, various frustrations and problems led me to an interest in personal development and with the philosophy of successful living taught by mentors like Bob Proctor (of The Secret fame), I not only continued to pursue all my dreams but also have become a teacher with a great family life with my wife and two wonderful children.
FTN: I know Doctor Who is a favourite of yours, what others shows and movies influenced you growing up?
AS: I think the first science fiction I ever saw apart from a little of Lost in Space was Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s Space:1999. I was only 8 and the whole look, style and feel just blew my mind. I’m told Space 1999 has many flaws, but I’m blind to them, I adore it. Their series “UFO” had a profound effect on me at age 18. I ended up getting in touch with Ed Bishop and tried to set up a production with him in it, based on a script I wrote. It would have been an unofficial follow up to UFO. UFO’s episode “Time Lash” inspired me to create my Damon Dark character. I always wanted to do a surreal, film noir SF series for television.
But when it comes to influence, I can say there’s a difference between what I like as a viewer and what influences me in terms of writing.
When I am thinking about stories, I look at Quatermass because I think Nigel Kneale gave us a blue print for great TV SF.
When I am thinking about mood or building an atmosphere, I look at Sapphire and Steel because P J Hammond’s stories were so relentlessly spooky. When I think about how to structure a story, how to build it up, tease the audience with hints and incidents, I look at Robert Holmes’ work on Pyramids of Mars, for Dr.Who. I think Holmes was a master of what he did there. When I am thinking about how to make the audience care for the character, I look at Straker from UFO and the Fifth Doctor from Dr.Who, because, they didn’t have adventures and win in the end, instead they simply struggled to survive in tough situations and often lost something, suffering the loss. It evokes sympathy.
FTN: Your bio says you are a producer, actor, writer, director and teacher. When do you get time to sleep?
AS: Ah, that’s a remarkably perceptive question! I do get very sleep deprived at times and I find I need to take a break and wind it all down to recover. When I’m fired up and working or creating, I can be a proper night owl and work till the sun comes up! I live a rather free-form life, I’m lucky to be self employed and while I do have contracts and commitments, I have rarely had to get up in the morning and head off to work. But being all those things, taking on so much creative control, it’s not as hard as it sounds. If you want to do it, you can do it. I think if I can do those things, anyone can. I’m as human as the next guy. You just need to believe in yourself and do it. Even making good films, good plays and good stories is not that hard.
Getting people to actually look…that’s the trick! Believe me, there are a dozen or so people who think my stuff is brilliant. If only I could multiply them by a thousand, I’d be rich! But I’m still very grateful for the few nice people who think highly of my work. Time management is an art that I work at every day. The diary helps a lot!
FTN: If you have a new project how much of these qualities do you bring, are you the all rounder or take a step back from time to time?
AS: Yeah, I think you have to wear different hats, if you know what I mean. When I’m writing, I’m storytelling. Then I put on the editor’s hat and proofread it and fix it where I need to.
Then if I have to learn lines or perform, I work on that, which may be a very long process if it’s a project like my Damon Dark one-actor play last year! That was immensely time consuming, months and months of rehearsing. And then there’s marketing and promotion. That’s another hat and it’s a tough one because people like me don’t have the reach or the money.
I do think there’s stepping back involved. You have to take long hard looks in the mirror. I loved my stage play, I loved the great responses from people who liked it, I really felt I got something out of my system by doing it. But I learnt tough lessons, too. I learnt how hard it is to sell a new idea no one’s heard of. I learned that quality is not enough, you also need marketing and advertising, there’s no use having a good thing if no one knows it’s good or believes they will enjoy it. Like most creative people, I’m never totally happy with my work, I have the nagging idea it could be better. But appreciation from people is wonderful, that makes it all worthwhile. I love people. You do it for the people as much as yourself. It’s important to be driven and passionate but it’s important to get honest with yourself, too. Maybe acting was a young man’s dream and by the time I did my one-man play, it was tougher than I expected.
Still, I’m proud of it. Ofcourse, a few months later, Gerry Anderson passed away. I must admit I wept like a baby when I heard he’d gone, I never realised how deeply he’d impacted my life!
FTN: You’ve appeared in television series and in movies. Did watching the behind the scenes stuff only fuel your enthusiasm and what did you learn from it all?
AS: I learned I lacked confidence to put my talents on display, I messed up so many auditions and chances due to nerves and self doubt. If someone cast me, which usually only happened in short films, repertory and unpaid stuff, they ended up happy with my work, but trying out always defeated me, I wanted it too much for my own good. Like the man who can’t ask the really beautiful woman out on a date, he’s defeated by his fear. But I did get a lot of bit parts and things. I said a single line of dialog in a courtroom drama once, I also escaped from a dungeon on Mission Impossible when they filmed a series in Melbourne in 1989. I met stars like Peter Graves, Thaao Phengalis, Jane Badler (from “V”) Tom Selleck, Max Von Sydow (from The Exorcist) and many more. I definitely felt annoyed to be only a bit player and was determined to prove I could play a lead role. I always felt I was a leading man waiting to be discovered. Ego, I suppose, but I had that belief.
FTN: How did Damon Dark come about? Was it your brainchild or a collaboration?
AS: I saw this late night screening of UFO, “Time Lash” and it was an odd one, very spooky. I loved it and I was haunted by it. By the 80s, I knew I wanted to make a show one day for TV where all the episodes were like “Time Lash”, the basic idea was to do SF TV the same as a detective series, plain clothes investigators who look into UFOs and weird cases. The aliens would be unseen, it would be about people controlled by them, people working for the aliens, people the aliens had endowed with strange powers. It would be dark, noirish, surreal, spooky, like Twilight Zone with a regular cast. I named Damon after Melbourne journalist David Dark and American writer Damon Knight. I let nothing stop me, really, I always found some way to get it out there, in the end. I did need help from others and I met some great people, people I just love and appreciate so much, to this day. But I also met some people who wanted to take over control of Damon Dark and became quite abusive when I drew a line with them. But I got it out there. It’s not the show it could have been if TV companies had backed it, it’s a mere tip of the ice berg of what it could have been, but it’s out there, so that’s something.
FTN: Do you find the webisodes and books bounce nicely off each other in that you can tell anything in a book wile the webisodes deal with his teenage years so to speak?
AS: Well, I did a 5 week series for Community TV in 1999. That got some reactions. This led to my YouTube version in 2006. Then that led to spinoffs. Jack Knoll in the UK did Young Damon Dark and my friend Chris Heaven in Italy did Vincent Kosmos, a show about Damon’s friend the time-travelling, womanising, art-theif from space, a kind of lovable rogue. The book began life as a submission for Telos books and was going to be about Dr.Who and Nyssa. It got a good reaction from Telos, the editor described it as a strong submission with many disturbing parts to the story. But that fell through so I rejigged it to be a Damon Dark novel. It was a lot harder to replace the Doctor and Nyssa with Damon Dark and a new female character than I expected. But I like the book and yes, it seems to complement the series well enough.
FTN: It became quite the cult hit in Australia didn’t it?
AS: Well, it has fans all around the world. On YouTube, stuff like a video of someone falling on their backside can get a million hits, but make a short film with few resources and you’re often lucky to get more than a few hundred hits. If you’re lucky it may go a bit viral. My Damon Dark series had over 260,000 hits, I was often in the top 100 directors from Australia, I made it into the top 100 of all time, I became a YouTube Partner. But in the end I deleted that channel, I felt a bit dissillusioned, I didn’t think YouTube’s changes were very supportive.
When you make something, you’re on the inside looking out, it’s hard to know if you’re popular. You just hope people don’t think your work is awful!
FTN: What is the sci-fi fan base like in Australia? Wasn’t there a point where some shows weren’t shown over there?
AS: We never saw Sapphire and Steel here. Some stuff, like Space 1999, got screened in prime time and Dr.Who was huge here. It seems good programming can affect how people feel about a show. I think Aussie science fiction fans are great people, they have good taste and they’re passionate. They treat celebrities like regular people, here. But they also don’t get overly cynical or bitter. They have a nice balance, which I respect. Our small population is the only problem, it’s hard to get a big group together at times. But I’ve met people’s Mums who say they love watching late night Star Trek screenings and things like that. I remember X-Files was huge when I was at University.
FTN: Now you have a very obvious surname which may have played a small part in your next book. Sherlock Holmes Time Detective? Would a certain Doctor In the Talons of Weng Chiang have been stuck in your head as you were writing it?
AS: Tom Baker, yes, who also played Holmes in a mini series. Because a writer needs to think about how to contruct his story I have been looking at Pyramids of Mars, a lot, which is a great example to me. But even in Pyramids, Tom is very much like Holmes, when he tells Lawrence Scarman not to call the police because they would only hamper his investigation! Yes, it’s a fine line between writing Holmes as Holmes and writing him like a new incarnation of our favourite Time Lord! Well, perhaps that’s not so strange because when I watched Steve Moffat’s “Sherlock”, I felt Benedict Cumberbatch was like a new incarnation of the Doctor, just missing a TARDIS! But you know, Sherlock Holmes and Dr.Who are a perfect fit and after Damon Dark I just looked at the idea of Holmes and a thought popped into my head “it’s time to tap into something bigger than myself”.
FTN: Why did you not include Watson?
AS: Simply because it’s set in our real world and Holmes is brought to life in much the same way ficitonal characters are brought to life in the Doctor Who story The Mind Robber.
Besides, Watson told the stories, so this story is told by someone who lives in our real world and knows of Holmes as fictional and is amazed to see him become real! I also assume we all kind of want to be in Watson’s shoes, observing Holmes in action, so the narrator is really a Watson-subtitute, he becomes the side kick to this manifested Holmes, he gets to experience something I hope the reader will envy and relate to, a dream come true for any fan, a chance to meet him for real! It’s a great idea, I think because a newly created human, created by otherly forces (Time Lords or similar?) and sent to Earth to fight evil, that means I have two things going on: firstly, he’s Holmes made real, with the added bonus of being a time/space agent and secondly…he’s an artificial human, just made, so questions like what really makes us human and who created us, they come into it.
It has a touch of the Bladerunner theme in there, about the life of replicants, etc. It’s also a book about Holmes, the literary phenemon, because that’s what the alien force has used as the basis of this created man. I think it can be interesting SF and a fun Holmes pastiche at the same time.
FTN: Will this be part of a series?
AS: I definitely hope to write many more, yes. And I hope to do “nods” or homages to thinks like Talons of Weng Chiang, Pyramids of Mars and more in there. It’s also got a healthy dose of Sapphire and Steel influence, I can say. So did “Damon Dark, Biodome”.
FTN: I know you are a great admirer of John Peel like me; don’t you think it’s cool we can talk to the people that inspired us growing up and let them know they have never been forgotten?
AS: Oh, yes, absolutely! Well, I’ve met many of my heroes and been in touch with and talked to many more. John’s a terrific example. I used to read his reviews and articles when I first left high school. I remember his Dr.Who books on the shelves of my girlfriend’s room in 1990 and I remember borrowing Daleks Master Plan from her to read it. So to finally be able to chat with him is marvellous. He’s really an inspiration to me, too. I really like the fact that he always kept true to the work of Terry Nation and never went along with any distortions of Terry’s ideas. I respect people who try to keep things how they should be. There’s great integrity there which I really admire.
FTN: Besides Sherlock, what else are you working on?
AS: Well, I used to be very much a fast and furious force for creation, I’ve slowed down a lot. I have a plan to write a lot of books and see what happens there.
Maybe Sherlock and Damon Dark can become series of books. I hope to do that. I want to put them all on Amazon Kindle and keep the prices really low, low a couple of dollars a download. I believe everyone should be able to afford what I make, I hate greed, I think greed is destructive. I want to write sharp, fast paced, snappy books and sell them at very low prices. I have a fear of being boring, so my stories are always on the move, they are never big, thick books because I dread being called long winded or dull. And I’ve a fan or two who still keep asking me when I’m going to perform my Damon Dark play again, so I better see if I can get that back on stage some time in 2013. Yes, it’s only January, Sherlock Holmes: time-detective is almost written and it’s shaping up to be a big year!
FTN: Adrian, thank you very much, it’s been a pleasure.
AS: Thank you!